Varicose veins also known as varicoses or varicosities, develop through a combination of weakened vein walls and faulty valves. Veins help to transport deoxygenated blood from the body to the heart. The valves in the veins allow blood to flow in one direction and close when the blood flows in the opposite direction. Sometimes these valves may fail to prevent the flow of the blood downwards and the deoxygenated blood accumulates in the veins making them twisted, dilated, swollen, enlarged, painful and raised.
Varicose veins commonly appear on the lower legs, but may also be sometimes seen in other parts of the body like abdomen, thighs etc. They usually appear bluish-purple or red in color and are occasionally painful. They may be a sign of underlying chronic venous disease or venous insufficiency.
Predisposing factors for varicose veins :
Weak veins: Sometimes the valves and veins in the legs become weak with age. This makes their function difficult and the gravitational pull makes it harder to pump the blood upwards to the heart. This makes the blood to be collected in the legs and builds up pressure thereby further weakening the veins.
Age: Ageing results in weakening of vein walls and valves. As the age increases, the risk of varicose veins increases.
Menopause: Women, who are nearing menopause or who have attained the stage of menopause have a higher risk of varicose veins.
Occupation: Occupations involving long hours of standing exert more gravitational pressure and may cause the veins to become weak.
Blood clots: If you have a history of blood clots due to any reason like minor injuries or accidents, then you are more prone to have varicose veins.
Hormonal changes: Certain hormonal changes may also cause varicose veins. People suffering from hormonal imbalances such as thyroid, PCOD, etc. may be likely to get varicose veins.
Pregnancy: Pregnancy increases the risk of varicose veins as there will be a change in hormonal balance and an increase in abdominal pressure with a resultant compression of the veins.
Obesity: Weight affects the pressure in the legs. As pressure builds up, the veins get weak and cause the blood to accumulate in the veins and enlarge them.
Pressure on abdomen: Pressure on the abdomen, due to various underlying factors such as tumors, constipation or inner garments like girdles, may cause varicose veins.
Smoking and alcoholism: Smoking and alcoholism are other major causes of varicose veins. Heavy alcohol consumption or smoking causes interruption of blood flow in the veins and clots may appear.
Symptoms and signs of varicose veins:
Varicose veins may be painful with a dragging sensation or may often be asymptomatic. Some common signs which can be noticed include swollen, enlarged, raised veins on the surface of the skin on the legs or ankles. They appear twisted, bluish-purple or red. Web-like structures may appear on the surface of the lower legs, so sometimes varicose veins are also referred to as spider veins. If the condition worsens, veins may bleed and ulcers may form. Itchy skin, swollen legs, thinning of the skin, flaky skin, open sores, or bleeding after minor injury, are some of the other manifestations of varicose veins.
Doctors may diagnose it based on the appearance of bluish-purple or red colored veins on the legs that are enlarged, twisted and painful. They may examine your legs after sitting or standing for a while.
In some cases, the doctor may also suggest an ultra-sound test called doppler to check for the flow of blood by the use of high-frequency waves. A venogram test consists of injecting dye and observing for the flow of blood in an Xray to further investigate the condition of your veins. These tests also help to eliminate other disorders like blood clot or blockage which may also have the same symptoms.
Treatment of Varicose Veins:
For relieving mild symptoms, home remedies may be enough.
Elevate your legs: When sitting for long hours, try to elevate your legs by putting them on a small stool or make some other arrangement so that the pressure may be reduced.
Compression stockings: Wearing compression stocking will reduce pain and swelling of the legs and support the pumping ability of the veins.
Exercise: Exercise, especially walking, can reduce worsening of the symptoms of varicose veins as it will help to produce new veins forming a by-pass to pump the blood to the heart.
Avoid sitting or standing for long periods: If you are sitting for long periods due to your job profile, try to take mini-breaks and walk around. if your job forces you to stand for long hours, then try to sit whenever possible.
Maintain the right weight: Obesity is one of the causes of varicose veins, so keep an eye on your weight.
High fiber, low salt diet: Eating a diet which is high in fiber and low in sodium will improve your blood circulation and reduce blood pressure.
Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water will help prevent clotting, improve blood flow and reduce the pressure.
For more severe or symptomatic cases of varicose veins, it is best to consult an expert and treatment options may include graded compression stockings, laser therapy, or surgery.